President Macron speaks out on sexual consent, menopause and fertility

‘Every woman should have free use of her body…but the poor organisation of our society must not prevent people from having children if they so wish’, he says

Women of all ages were mentioned in the plan - from fertility checks at 20 through to childbirth, later motherhood, menopause, and consent
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Free fertility checks, improved access to IVF, ‘birth leave’ and a ‘mission’ on menopause: These were some of the main points made by President Emmanuel Macron during a new interview on women’s health.

Mr Macron made the announcements in an interview with Elle magazine, published today (Wednesday, May 8). 

The measures are part of his wider plan to fight infertility, which he announced in January this year - starting with a free fertility and health check-up from around age 20.

Mr Macron said: “Every woman should have free use of her body. But one figure stands out for me: the fertility rate is 1.8, and the rate of desire for children is 2.3.”

Read also: Fertility crisis? France’s birth rate hits near 30-year low 

Previously, the president had discussed the country’s falling birth rate, and said he wanted to “demographically rearm” France. However, this phrase was widely criticised, especially by feminist groups.

He defended the term, saying: “I said this as a metaphor for other sectors. A nation's strength also lies in its ability to generate a dynamic birth rate…But the key is to reconcile a nation's objective with individual freedoms and choices. 

“We must not make those who do not want to have children feel guilty, but the poor organisation of our society must not prevent women and families from having children if they so wish.”

He said that the new women’s health plan would consist of three steps: prevention, pathways, and research.

The measures and aims outlined included:

A fertility check-up

This would be offered to everyone around the age of 20, reimbursed by the state, to “establish a complete assessment, spectrogram, (or) ovarian reserve”.

Older mothers

The opening of more private centres to allow the “preservation of eggs” for women who want to have children later in life.

Improved access to IVF

Measures to reduce waiting times for access to IVF. The waiting time is currently 16-24 months.

Read also: French ethics report: All women should have IVF access 

Visiting duty for fathers

The opening of a debate on the idea of “visiting duty” for fathers in single-parent families in which mothers are the main carers. 

“This debate is basically both a debate on parenthood and a debate on equality between women and men, which is to introduce a duty to visit, a duty to accompany children into adulthood,” said Mr Macron. 

“There must be not just a right but a duty to visit, a duty to monitor, to educate, to pursue the parental project beyond the couple. That's the key: a parental project. It must not stop when a couple separates. That's what gender equality is all about,” he said.

‘Birth leave’

Mr Macron also mentioned the government’s plan to introduce ‘birth leave’. 

He said that it would last “three months for mothers and three months for fathers” within the child’s first year, and will be “shorter but better-paid”. This ‘birth leave’ would be added to paternity and maternity leave.

The new pay rate for the period will come into effect at the end of 2025, he said. It will be “50% of salary” up to a cap of €1,900.

Surrogacy: ‘Not in favour’

Mr Macron also reiterated his opposition to surrogacy (where a woman carries and delivers a child for another couple or individual, called gestation pour autrui, GPA, in French). In countries such as the USA, it can be very well-paid.

Mr Macron said: “I am not in favour of it. It is not compatible with the dignity of women, it is a form of commodification of their bodies.

“That said, I obviously think that the parents of children born through GPA abroad should be respected and supported. They are loving families.”

Yet, he rejected certain aspects of the surrogacy debate, including a tweet in April from Marion Maréchal, high-profile member of the far-right Reconquête! party. This tweet was responding to the announcement that fashion designer Simon Porte and his husband Marco Maestri had become parents of twins. 

“Where is the mother?” Ms Maréchal asked.

A reply to the tweet from government spokesperson Prisca Thevenot called the comment “outright homophobia…that is mind-boggling”. She said: “Today we are celebrating 11 years since the adoption of marriage for all, a great victory for equality. Let's continue to mobilise against all forms of discrimination and to guarantee the rights of all citizens.”

“I was shocked by the way this controversy came about, and by what it says about the homophobia of certain French political parties,” said Mr Macron.

Read also: Unmarried couples to be able to adopt if new French law passes 

Menopause mission

Mr Macron also raised the issue of menopause (the average age for this to start is 51 in France).

“We realise that we knew very little about this subject,” said Mr Macron. “It's a real taboo in society, with all that it entails in terms of consequences, hormonal imbalances and issues. I tend to think that if men were confronted with this issue, it would have been dealt with much more quickly.”

The president said that “to make up for this”, he wants a new “parliamentary mission” to “take stock of the current state of menopause care (treatments, support, osteoporosis, cardio and psychological monitoring) and the difficulties encountered by women in terms of information and monitoring”.

The mission will be led by MP Stéphanie Rist and Professor Florence Trémollières, head of the menopause centre at Toulouse University Hospital, he said. 

Similarly, he has asked health authority La Haute Autorité de santé to define “practices and guidelines for hormone treatments during the menopause”.

Prof Trémollières has already said that the parliamentary mission is “important, because it will affect a period in every woman's life”, she told FranceInfo. The mission “will serve above all to provide information on what the menopause is, and to set up actions to prevent all its consequences”, she said.

“We need to talk about the menopause and make women understand that it's far from taboo. All women will spend almost 30 years of their lives in a situation of hormonal deficiency. For some, it is far from neutral [and is] not insignificant in terms of public health.”

She said that the issue is much less taboo in Canada and the UK, “where well-known women have spoken out about this phenomenon, without any taboos, and have thereby raised awareness”.

The professor added that hormonal therapy for women suffering from severe menopause symptoms is the “safest and most effective” treatment”, and “offers advantages that far outweigh the risks''. She said that more menopausal women in France could take HRT, and that just two years ago, only 6% did so.

Read also: ‘Asking for HRT in France made me feel like a stroppy child’ 

Clear consent

The president also said that he wanted to ensure the law was “clear, fully objective and respectful of our principles” on the subject of consent. The law must also work effectively in cases of alleged rape, Mr Macron said.

“This is the work I have asked MPs to do,” he said. “They are working on it with the Minister of Justice [and a bill should be ready] by the end of the year.”

When questioned about the actor Gérard Depardieu - who is set to be tried in a Paris court for allegations of sexual assault (and was charged with rape of another woman in 2020) - Mr Macron said that he had “never defended an attacker against victims”.

He said: “I just have a desire to respect our principles, such as the presumption of innocence [until proven guilty]. These same principles will enable the courts to rule next October, and that's a good thing.”

Mr Macron added: “I have deep respect, compassion, and great confidence in women and in what they have to say. I am uncompromising on the issue of rape, domination and this culture of brutality. 

“My priority has always been to protect victims, and this is the case for the Depardieu matter,” he said.